If you have been phasing red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and even dairy foods out of your diet to enhance your health, you must be thinking green — green salad, green peppers, green beans. Yet, vegetarian diets go way beyond the produce section and bring with them specific concerns, particularly for athletes: Will your exercise performance suffer? What about your energy levels? Can you still develop body-firming muscle without eating animal protein?

In a nutshell, you can put your fears aside. Vegetarian diets are typically high in carbohydrates and low in fat, which is the perfect prescription for exercises and athletes. With 60% to 70% of your diet coming from carb-packed grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, there is no way your performance will drop off. And you can certainly get enough protein to pack on plenty of muscle. All you need to do is plan your diet well.

While research has taught us that eating too many animal-based foods may result in the development of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer, the problem isn’t that these foods are bad for you. Trouble arises only if you make animal foods the centre of your diet, so you do not have enough room left to eat all the fabulous plant foods like grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables necessary to ward off the disease.

During the past decade, millions of people around the globe have switched to a vegetarian style of eating and they fall within a large range of eating style, such as the almost-vegetarians (eat dairy foods, eggs, poultry and fish, but avoid red meat), pesco-vegetarians (eat dairy foods, eggs and fish, but no other animal flesh), lacto-ovo vegetarians (eat dairy foods and eggs, but exclude animal flesh), lacto-vegetarians (eat dairy foods and eggs, but exclude animal flesh), ovo-vegetarians (eat eggs but no dairy foods or animal flesh) and vegans (eat no animal foods of any type).

Any of the above-mentioned diets will offer you the opportunity to expand the number of plant foods in your diet, lose a ton of weight and still meet your own desires for food, taste and performance.


Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Changing from a meat-centred to a   diet is not as simple as just eliminating the meat. The trick is to make sure you are not skimping on nutrients as you cut out certain foods. Vegans run the greatest risk of deficiencies because several vital nutrients — including protein, vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc and calcium — are found in highest qualities or most significant amounts primarily in meat, eggs and dairy products.

You also need to take care to eat enough protein and when you are training, your protein requirement is about 0.7-0,8 gram per pound of bodyweight. Protein is required not only for the maintenance, replacement and growth of body tissues but is also used to make hormones that regulate your metabolism, maintain the body’s water balance, protect against disease, transport nutrients in and out of the cells, carry oxygen and regulate blood clotting. If you do not eat enough high-quality protein, you just will not achieve your sculpting goals. And when you are not eating any animal sources of protein, you need to eat about 10% more protein to cover the variation in protein quality from only plant sources.

When it comes to carbohydrates, do not be misled by fads. The research is clear: If you want to train hard and long, you need plenty of carbs to achieve your goals. Eating a vegetarian-style diet will make this easier. Plant-based foods are great sources of all the different carbohydrates and fibres that can keep you healthy and fuel your intense workouts.


Szechuan Stuffed Red Peppers

This version of the Eastern European stuffed pepper owes more to the Szechuan region of China than to Budapest. Szechuan cooking is usually assumed to be hot, but this mild sauce complements the stuffed peppers to perfection. To whip up the Szechuan sauce, these are the ingredients that you need:

  • 2 Tbsp. tamari sauce or regular soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 Tbsp. plum sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp. mustard

As for the stuffed red peppers, you will need the following:

  • 1 cup raw long-grain brown or white rice
  • 1 Tbsp. peanut oil
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped celery
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
  • 6 oz. firm tofu, crumbled
  • 3 small red bell peppers, stem and seeds removed
  • 4 medium tomatoes, quartered
  • Non-stick cooking spray

For the Szechuan sauce, mix all the ingredients together and set aside. As for the stuffed red peppers, start off by trimming the bottoms of the peppers so they stand upright. Stuff the filling into the peppers and stand the peppers upright in one layer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Push tomatoes all around the peppers, squeezing them slightly to release some juice. Bring the tomato juice around the peppers to a boil over medium heat before reducing the heat to medium-low and cook about 30 minutes or until peppers are tender.

Next, puree half of the pan juices and 2 tablespoons of Szechuan sauce in a blender, pour mixture over and around the peppers and serve immediately.